Reducing your plastic waste isn’t just the latest trendy thing — it’s a long-overdue necessity that we all need to be part of. Remember, every piece of plastic that’s ever been created is still in existence somewhere. I totally get that we can’t all create a zero waste home today — although kudos to those amazing few who’ve managed it! But we can all make some simple plastic swaps that reduce our carbon footprint and plastic consumption. Making these easy plastic swaps doesn’t cost you a huge amount of money — and in fact, over the long term, most will actually save you money — and help you make zero waste changes to reduce your household waste and your dependence on single-use plastic.
1. Toothpaste Tubes –> Toothpaste Pills
Over a billion toothpaste tubes get thrown out each year–that’s a lot of plastic added to landfill or discarded in our oceans every single year. Thankfully, sustainable toothpaste is a thing. It doesn’t break the bank, and it’s actually pretty awesome. Our recommendation it Bite Toothpaste Bits. Their glass jar of toothpaste tablets is plastic-free and refillable, and their packaging is cardboard, even sealed with paper tape. The toothpaste bits are completely natural and cruelty-free, suitable for vegans, and use organic mint for flavor. Using natural ingredients, this sustainable toothpaste whitens teeth and, because there’s no liquid, the tabs are TSA-friendly. You simply put one of the bits in your mouth, bite down, and start brushing, at which point it foams up like regular toothpaste. If you don’t fancy Bite’s bits, there are a number of other sustainable toothpaste brands available.
2. Saran Wrap –> Waxed Food Wraps
Considering it was an accidental invention in 1933, saran wrap, also known as plastic wrap or cling film, today is the most commonly used single-use plastic, and it’s incredibly problematic because it’s not reusable or recyclable. The average family gets through 24 rolls of saran wrap per year. Even if you use cheap rolls at $3 to $5 each, that still equates to up to $120 per year that you’re literally throwing in the trash. You’re better off, environmentally and financially, buying some beeswax wraps.
You really don’t want to contribute to shrinkwrapping Texas! All joking aside, plastic wrap isn’t recyclable or reusable, and it doesn’t decompose easily. Add to that the dangerous chemicals that are used in the production of the film and that are still present when you wrap your food in it, it gets more and more unappealing. So make the switch to beeswax wraps.
High-quality beeswax wraps are more expensive initially than a roll of wrap, but you can use them repeatedly for years. And, when they do eventually reach the end of their lives, you can compost or recycle them. Ideally, look for brands that use organic beeswax and cotton–we think this four-pack of wraps from BUZZWRAP is a great starter pack at a solid price.
Good-quality beeswax wraps are easy to use–you can get the wax coated fabric to stick to itself just with the heat of your hand. You can cover bowls, wrap sandwiches, create snack pouches, and even make little dishes from these wraps. There’s a number of tutorials on YouTube to show you how. If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can also make your own beeswax wraps. Eventually, I’ll undoubtedly make my own ones, too, but, like you, I’m super busy, so I have to pick and choose how I spend my available “making” time.
3. Regular Deodorant –> Clean Deodorant
So you already know that most commercial deodorant is bad for your health and the environment, right? It’s full of harmful substances like aluminum and parabens, which have been linked to conditions and diseases like Alzheimer’s and various cancers. Many also contain endocrine disruptors that are reported to inhibit fertility, thyroid function, and other hormone-related conditions. And that’s without the hideously wasteful packaging! So a word of caution on this one – make sure you read the ingedients–don’t just assume that a deodorant is a good choice because it’s in eco-friendly packaging. I know that your time is limited, just like mine, but I’m also into saving money wherever I can and being as self-sufficient as I can be, so healthy deodorant is one of the many things I choose to make myself. It’s insanely easy, costs just a few pennies, and takes only a couple of minutes. Check out our recipe for DIY natural deodorant. However, if you’re allergic to baking soda, this recipe won’t be suitable, in which case, you can buy like these or here.
4. Saying Yes –> Saying No
This one is might sound a bit silly, but we’re all guilty of making impulse purchases because something seems like a good idea, or you’ve just spotted something that you just have to have right now. We all do it. And it costs us money unnecessarily and often increases plastic waste. So get used to saying “no”. Before you buy anything, ask yourself whether you really need it. Consider whether there’ll be a detrimental impact on your life if you don’t make the purchase. And be firm with yourself. Commit to making no impulse purchases. Your basic instincts want instant gratification, and stores, online and brick and mortar, are geared toward tapping into that need. Outside of your household essentials, commit to waiting at least 24 hours before you buy something you saw and really wanted or thought you needed. Then ask yourself again if you’ve really thought the purchase through. Is it worth the money? Do you really need it? Can you make something at home that does the same job? And, if after all those questions it turns out that you don’t really need it, don’t let yourself buy it.
5. Plastic Straws –> Plastic-Free Straws
Straws aren’t a necessity for most people, although they are for some. Plus, they’re fun. Most of us get a little extra kick of enjoyment from an ice-cold drink with a straw in it. But conventional straws are plastic and they cause serious environmental damage–you may have seen the awful video of the sea turtle in agony with a straw wedged up her nostril. But there are a few environmentally sound options that let you enjoy straws without the guilt. I like reusable stainless steel or glass straws for everyday use, but you can also find some recycled, recyclable paper straws that are a good choice if you’ve got kids or just need a soft straw.
6. Grocery Store Bread –> Bakery Bread
When you go to the grocery store, most of the pre-packaged bread comes in plastic, or at least semi-plastic packaging. This is wasteful and unnecessary. Some stores have started to package their in-store bakery bread in paper packaging, although some of this has a plastic window, too. So try your local bakery. You’ll be doing your bit to support local businesses, and you’ll be able to take your own container for the bread. Plus, most traditional bakeries use paper bags if you don’t have your own bag. If you want to avoid paper, too, I strongly suggest you invest in, or purchase, some wax wraps, as the larger ones are perfect for bread.
7. Body Wash, Shampoo, and Conditioner –> Plastic-free Alternatives
Again, this one is a health issue as much as a plastics one. Parabens, SLS, and other harmful chemicals fill these products, even most of the ones that make claims like “with nature’s bounty”. The hair and body care industry is among the very worst for green-washing. That’s deliberately phrasing product information and designing product packaging to make you think they’re “green”, without breaking advertising law. I hate it, and so many people fall into the trap. I was researching a product the other day, as I was thinking of trialing a new shampoo, and the company had “organics” in their brand name and the product was labeled as “naturally organic shampoo”. When I delved deeper and read the full list of ingredients and the disclaimer, actually, 25% of the plant-based ingredients were of organic origin. The rest of the product was just crammed full of the nasty chemicals my family avoids. It seems even the “green” retailer who was stocking the product had been hoodwinked. So, just like with natural deodorant, or anything else you buy, don’t let spurious advertising fool you–check the ingredients carefully, and look for their hidden disclaimers.
Shampoo bars are great–the same as natural bar soap–they are usually simply packaged in cardboard or paper, so packaging is minimal and recyclable. You can, of course, make your own, but it’s not that easy, and it’s a multi-stage process. Some people do well with Castille soap like Dr. Bronner’s for hair, body wash, handwash, dish detergent and more, but I find Castille soap, whatever the brand, leaves my hair greasy, even if I use a strong conditioner. However, I do like Dr. Bronner’s as a body wash, dish detergent, floor cleaner, and general detergent.
Outside of shampoo bars and bar soap, you may struggle to find these products in eco-friendly packaging like glass, as it’s difficult to ship safely. So you may have to compromise. Opt for large, 1-gallon volumes. Yes, the packaging is plastic, but it’s a smaller amount of plastic than you’d end up with if you bought multiple smaller product units. And, it is generally significantly cheaper to purchase in bulk. If I’m trialing a new product that I just can’t purchase in plastic-free packaging, I tend to purchase one small unit and, if I like it, the next time, I purchase in bulk, and refill the smaller unit from the bulk one, so I’m not technically creating waste. Plus, I repurpose the large containers, most often in the garden or the workshop, as I’d always rather repurpose than recycle when I can.
Here are some of the shampoos I like:
- Ethique Eco-Friendly Shampoo Bar for Normal Hair
- The Yellow Bird Shampoo Bar
- J.R. Liggett’s Shampoo-Original Old-Fashioned Bar – 3.5 Ounce (Pack of 3)
Here are some of the natural body washes I like:
- HempAlta Beauty Eco-Friendly Soap bar
- Tasmanian Seaweed & Green Tea Scrub Soap
- CleanCult All Natural Bar Soap
As for conditioners, I make my own. Take a look at our natural hair conditioner recipe. It takes minutes and I simply make enough to fill a glass Kilner. It’s just a blend of apple cider vinegar, water, and essential oil, but it’s lovely–and effective. If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own conditioner, check out these eco-friendly ones here.
8. Dishwashing Detergent –> Plastic-reduced Alternatives
As I mentioned, I like Dr Bronner’s for dishwashing detergent, but there are a few other eco-friendly alternatives with minimal packaging. Plus, you can make your own, although this is something I’ve never tried. It’s on my to-do list, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Obviously, look for natural ingredients with nothing nasty like SLS. As for reducing plastic waste, it can be challenging with this type of liquid product. I always try to find a super-concentrated product, so a little goes a long way, and I get the most product with the least packaging. I’ll also buy one regular-size to see if it works for my family, then make any subsequent purchases in bulk, buying 1-gallon jugs and just refilling the smaller container as necessary.
9. Buying Individual Products –> Buying in Bulk
This one is pretty obvious if you’ve read the rest of the post–if it’s a non-perishable like detergent, rice, tea, coffee, health and beauty products and similar, buy it in bulk. Unfortunately, not everything is available without plastic packaging, and somethings you just can’t manage without, so minimize your plastic waste by buying in bulk when possible. It’s a strategy that doesn’t just reduce waste, it saves you money, too. Just try to choose packaging you can reuse or at the very least, recycle, whenever you can. And then find creative ways to repurpose that packaging, like these ideas for reusing gallon jugs or these. I found a great post on ways to reuse plastic bags, too.
10. Buying Pre-packaged –> Buying Loose
Surprisingly, it’s not always easy to find fresh produce loose – many grocery stores still plastic wrap the majority of their fresh fruits and vegetables. It just seems so silly to only be able to buy a cucumber or peppers wrapped in plastic. What a waste! I buy all the fresh produce I can loose, and I recommend you do the same. And yes, I know, we’re all busy, busy people with full lives and limited time, but please don’t buy pre-prepared vegetables smothered in plastic – just take the two minutes it takes to chop your own onion or carrot! And instead of buying that pack of baby potatoes ready to roast with butter and herbs that sits in a plastic-coated aluminum tray, sealed with a plastic film, and covered over with a cardboard, plastic-coated sleeve, buy a bag of potatoes, give them a quick wash, add a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of herbs, and you’re done — getting into this kind of habit saves you money, doesn’t really take any longer than buying pre-packaged, and greatly reduces your plastic waste.
Find stores that let you take your own containers for meat–many butchers, for example, are happy to put your order in your own glass containers. If you’re lucky enough to have a bulk store or a zero-waste store locally, take your glass and stainless steel containers and fill them with your product choices — pasta, rice, nuts, pulses, detergents, cereals, baking ingredients and so on.
There are loads of ways to reduce plastic waste, and this list of plastic swaps should give you a good starting point. Get creative and think outside the box, and make sure you’re a conscious, ethical consumer. I know it’s hard to always live up to being green, ethical, healthy, Earth-friendly, and, and, and…. But simply do your best. Our philosophy here at Real Self-Sufficiency is that every small change you make has a huge impact. So even if you only adopt one of these plastic swap ideas per month, you’re still making a positive impact. Simply do what you can. Can’t buy in bulk because you don’t have a bulk store locally? That’s okay, because you’ve committed to not using any plastic bags and you’ve switched to plastic-free soap and hair products. And maybe next month, you’ll get yourself a few glass containers and go visit a new butcher. Or maybe you’ll add a pack of wax wraps to your next online order so you won’t be buying plastic wrap. Whatever plastic swaps you make–thank you.
And please let me know all the other ways you and your family reduce your plastic waste–and creative ways that you repurpose the plastic that you do have.
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